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Disclosing an invisible disability at work: What to do, when to do it, and what to watch

| Jan 27, 2021 | Disability Discrimination |

Your condition didn’t come on overnight, and you didn’t have it when you first started working for your employer. For a long while, you were able to manage your health problem well with medication alone without it affecting  your ability to work.

Now, things have changed. Your condition has worsened, but you’re hesitant about telling your employer. You’re afraid it will ultimately affect how you’re perceived by the company and the opportunities you’re given.

When and how should you disclose an invisible disability?

It’s entirely your call, but many people recommend that you tell your employer as soon as your illness may lead to questions or problems in the workplace. For example, if you need extra bathroom breaks for your Crohn’s disease, you want your employer to know that you aren’t merely ducking out of work for no reason.

You definitely need to disclose your condition if you need accommodations to keep doing your job. If your workplace is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you have every right to make reasonable requests that will make your job easier. For example, if you need regular infusion treatments, you may need to disclose your condition to your employer so that you can negotiate flex time.

Experts recommend that you write down what you want to say in an email, including the fact that you need accommodations under the ADA. Be specific, and stress that you’re open to your employer’s input.

What should you watch for after you disclose your condition?

An email helps document your position and your request for accommodations. That can protect you if you suddenly find that your work — which was always acceptable in the past — is being heavily scrutinized or you’re suddenly given poor performance reviews. Both are signs of disability discrimination.

While your employer is permitted to ask for reasonable documentation of your condition, they do not have the right to nose into your treatment or other issues. If you’re constantly being interrogated about your condition and “when you might improve,” that could be a precursor to negative action by your employer.

If you’re being treated differently by an employer now that you’ve disclosed your invisible disability or you’re being subjected to disability discrimination and your employer won’t accommodate you, speak to an attorney right away.